Rugby League


Jack Wighton to take on Johnathan Thurston in round one

Raiders sensation Jack Wighton faces the ultimate NRL test in his top-grade debut at No. 6, with the 21-year-old set to face-off against North Queensland Cowboys playmaker Johnathan Thurston next Saturday night.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has confirmed Wighton will start in the halves alongside Canberra captain Terry Campese in the NRL season-opener in Townsville on March 8, with Campese to shift more towards a halfback role.

Stuart has also named two rookies in a squad of 20 to prepare for the Cowboys clash, with centre Matt Allwood already told he will be making his debut and prop Shannon Boyd a surprise call-up in place of the injured David Shillington (ribs).

Former Australian Kangaroos prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs is the other major casualty from the top squad of 20, the 28-year-old further delaying his comeback to the NRL after rolling his ankle at training on Thursday.

Learoyd-Lahrs will miss four to six weeks and it continues a horrid run of injuries for the senior prop, who hasn't played in the NRL since May last year.

Stuart trimmed his NRL pre-season squad of 36 down to 20 players on Wednesday to focus on combinations ahead of first match.


Of most interest will be the halves partnership of Wighton and Campese, given Wighton has played all his NRL games out wide and Campese did not contest any of the pre-season trials.

Another talented halfback, 21-year-old Mitch Cornish, was left out.

Wighton's potential switch to five-eighth was first revealed by The Canberra Times in October. But Stuart only confirmed the move after Allwood performed admirably at centre in last Saturday's final trial match against Newcastle.

Stuart is keeping starting positions close to his chest, but confirmed Wighton would be at six and 21-year-old Allwood would make his NRL debut at right centre, the position vacated by Blake Ferguson.

''I told [Allwood] at the start of the week that he would play,'' Stuart said.

''I wanted to give him time to get his head around making his debut, so he had a little bit more time to prepare.''

Glen Buttriss and Josh McCrone have both been named to battle for the starting hooker spot, although it's understood McCrone's utility value will see him come off the bench.

Anthony Milford is set to start at fullback, with Edrick Lee and Reece Robinson on the wings.

The biggest battle for starting spots is in the forwards.

Boyd is the heaviest player at the Raiders, the NSW under-20s representative and 21-year-old giant standing 194 centimetres and weighing 122 kilograms.

Raiders' round-one squad: Sami Sauiluma, Shannon Boyd, Mark Nicholls, Anthony Milford, Reece Robinson, Brett White, Dane Tilse, Jack Wighton, Bill Tupou, Matt Allwood, Edrick Lee, Terry Campese, Glen Buttriss, Josh McCrone, Jarrad Kennedy, Paul Vaughan, Jarrod Croker, Shaun Fensom, Joel Edwards, Josh Papalii.